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AI & Robots – They Took Our Jobs

The industrial revolution was expected to bring mass unemployment. We’ve seen the same fears again in the last generation as computerisation was expected to make many office jobs redundant. In the end, the employment market just changed. Some of the cost savings realised from new technologies led to a rising tide that lifted all boats, providing higher wages which stimulated the economy and created a leisure industry.

In 2017 the perfect storm is brewing – an amalgamation of cloud computing, internet of things, AI and robotics hints at a new tier of technology that may make many professions redundant.

The self driving car is a reality. It started with Google. Tesla had the vision to turn it into a commercial reality. Every other major manufacturer is working on self driving technology. Uber is looking to take the human driver out of the taxi business, and many transportation and trucking companies are hugely excited at the imminent prospect of self driving trucks. Consider that in the USA alone, there are 3.5 million truck drivers.

What about loading, unloading and warehousing jobs? The robots have got that covered. Amazon grew it’s warehouse robotic fleet from 30,000 to 45,000 in a year and has already trialed sending deliveries direct from the warehouse to the customer within an hour of ordering, using drones.

So the robots are taking over the boring and brawny jobs – the brainy jobs are safe, right? Maybe not – artificial intelligence has gotten really good in recent years at the kind of problems that humans always dominated, but computers always struggled with – namely pattern matching, trend identification and making strong decisions with partial information. IBM, the company who brought artificial intelligence and machine learning to prominence, when its Deep Blue computer beat chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov in 1997, is now eyeing more lucrative applications for its research. The Watson AI technology is now being used commercially, and recently a Japanese company replaced office workers with artificial intelligence. “The technology will be able to read tens of thousands of medical certificates and factor in the length of hospital stays, medical histories and any surgical procedures before calculating payouts”.

While a number of jobs will be created to develop these new technologies, this will represent a drop in the ocean compared to the number of jobs made redundant by such technologies. So if we’ve got more people and fewer jobs globally, we have a dilemma. It is the role of the state to step in and provide its unemployed with a means to keep food on the table, however the state needs taxes in order to fund that aid, and the corporations who are developing these technologies pay a lot of people a lot of money to minimise the taxes paid to the states in which they operate. Corporations work to maximise their profits.

The human response to the dilemma would be to divide the remaining human labour requirements amongst the workforce, resulting in shorter work weeks. This would leave more leisure time for workers, and significantly – more time for volunteer and pro-bono work. Imagine the good that could be done by feeding the power of 1/5 of the current national work week into the community. Increased taxation on corporations would allow workers to maintain the same salary, and the cost would be offset by putting this money back into the economy, ultimately returning to the coffers of corporate. Henry Ford recognized this to be true when he said “One’s own employees ought to be one’s own best customers.”

How do you feel about working 2.5 days a week, with a further day in the community?